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Dancing with the Davos Stars

From the Scrapbook.

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42
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Behind many conspiracy theories, The Scrapbook has always suspected, lies a deep longing to believe that the ships of state are being captained by highly competent, ingenious people. Evil geniuses, to be sure, but geniuses nonetheless. 

So, people who fear the machinations of the CIA tend to attribute to the agency great feats of cunning and derring-do. The idea that Langley might be a bureaucracy stuffed with third-rate academic mediocrities and time-serving, risk-averse careerists planning for early retirement does not compute.

Likewise, those obsessed with international banking conspiracies envision a manipulative cabal that always knows which buttons to push to make lesser mortals dance to their tune. But what if the cabal is instead just that hapless fraternity of the good-looking but academically challenged young men from your college days, now all grown up: stuffed-shirt CEOs taken for a high-speed ride to insolvency by the social-misfit math PhDs in their own employ?

The conspiracists are convinced they live in a sinister world because they find the alternative even more horrifying: What if the ship of state is just a ship of fools? What if the world is being tossed wildly from one swell to another, always about to founder or run aground, and the crew is just a rabble of lackwit incompetents down in the hold guzzling all the rum before they shoulder the passengers aside and commandeer the lifeboats? Unthinkable.

These happy meditations were prompted by The Scrapbook’s reading in last Saturday’s New York Times about the latest activities of the World Economic Forum’s 50 fellows. The forum gathers the elite of the world to a shindig every year in Davos, Switzerland—a gathering of titans of industry and politics that has launched a thousand conspiracy theories. The fellowships it sponsors are a three-year work/study program for elites-in-training. And as the Times reports, they were in New York last week to—wait for it—attend theater camp: 

“Tap the skin,” Kristin Linklater tells the two dozen or so students who face her on the stage of the Miller Theater at Columbia University. “Now tap your leg. Walk. Tap. Walk. Tap.”

“Now tap your own buttocks,” she instructs, and ripples of laughter spread across the stage. “Remember what I said earlier: tension in your buttocks makes you stupid.”

“Oh come on, do it!” she urges the most reluctant tappers. “Don’t be self-conscious.” .  .  . 

“It gets you out of your comfort zone,” Arthur Wasunna, one of the global leaders in training, said of the class. .  .  . 

Compared with her regular roster of students, the forum fellows had “enormous inhibitions,” Ms. Link-later said. .  .  . 

In a classroom across the street from the Miller Theater, a second group of fellows similarly let go of their inhibitions with Andrea Haring, a vocal coach. Grunting and stretching, students were arranged in circles, throwing imaginary colored objects at one another: an orange baseball, a jagged fire-engine red boulder, a hot pink feather.

Colors bring out emotional expressiveness, Ms. Haring explained; each color connects to a different vowel sound. “Zoooooo,” she rumbled in a deep voice, originates in the pelvis and legs and is a dark, earthy brown. “He-uh,” leafy green, comes through the mouth, and expresses searching curiosity. “Reeee,” delivered in a silly, high-pitched trill, is white and pours from the top of the head like confetti.

But wait—there’s more: 

[Brent] Blair, the founding director of the Applied Theater Arts program at the University of Southern California, trained with Augusto Boal, the Brazilian director who created Theater of the Oppressed, an international movement, based on the work of the radical Brazilian theorist Paulo Freire, that seeks to empower poor and oppressed people through socially conscious theater. .  .  . He asked the students to take on the role of an oppressed person or an oppressor, and to improvise a dialogue. Ms. Linklater watched from an orchestra seat. “Yes, it’s political, but it’s also hugely theatrical and transformative,” she said, “It makes you think. I felt we needed provocation.”

The Scrapbook has a piece of advice for all of us traveling down in steerage: Keep your lifejackets near at hand.


Twitter Tyranny

When last we visited the Twittersphere, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez had just tweeted threateningly that he intended to use the social networking site to coordinate the arrests of unpatriotic Venezuelans who were trying to sabotage their country at the behest of Yankee pigs. El Presidente—or “chavezcandanga,” as he is known on Twitter—quickly amassed some 660,000 online followers, demonstrating yet again that there is nothing inherently virtuous, or anti-tyranny, about social networking as a technology.

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